September 28, 2014

Universal Design

Imagine something with me this morning.  Imagine someone came up to you and said: I want you to give me one good reason why I should believe in God.  What would you say?  Would you talk about the hope He brings to your life?  Would you try and explain the peace you feel each day knowing that He is with you?  Would you describe the sense of purpose you have in everything you do knowing it is being done to bring Him glory and further His kingdom?  Would you share about the strength you experience to stay on the straight and narrow path in spite of a number of tempting alternatives that present themselves to you on a daily basis?  Would you point to places where your life is different than it was before God was in it?  Any of these might serve as really important reasons a person should believe in God.  You could probably make a good case along any one of these lines if you tried.

But, what if this skeptic was a bit of a curmudgeon and remained unconvinced?  What if he responded by saying, “That’s all great for you, but I don’t have any way of knowing that my experience will be like yours.  I want you to give me a reason external to you; something to which anybody could have access and by which they could be affected.”  What would you say then?  The truth is that this is the point in a conversation like this at which many believers would jump off the bus and change the subject.  This is the moment that makes many believers break out into a cold sweat: the dreaded question you can’t answer.  But what if you could?  Would you feel more ready?  Would you feel more unafraid?

This morning we are in the second week of our series, God’s Not Dead, based, of course, on the movie by the same name.  The movie is about a college student who is given, forced into really, a grand stage to defend his faith before a largely hostile audience and their antagonistically hostile professor.  After a few days of frantic preparation he boldly made his case, courageously endured the ensuing persecution, and made a real impact for the Gospel.  With this in mind, the question we are seeking to wrestle with in this series is this: if God’s not dead, who are you going to tell about it?

The fact is—as terrifying as it may be—as followers of Jesus we are commanded to share our faith with the people around us.  We are to make disciples of all nations to the glory of God.  Now, that sounds really good in theory, but as we talked about last week, there is some necessary preparation work we need to do before we are really ready to do it successfully.  This is what we took a look at last week.  If we are going to share the message that God’s not dead with someone else we need to make sure we are ready for and unafraid of the task before us.  Well, talking about being ready is one thing, but actually being ready to walk out on the street and spread the news is a totally different thing.  We talked about the fact that being ready involves being committed, prepared, wise, humble, and confident, but what are some of the tools necessary to do the work?

I’m glad you asked.  This week and next I want to give you a couple of specific tools for your evangelism tool belt; some stones for your sling that will help you feel more ready and less afraid.  These tools are designed to work in situations where we face challenges in one of the two major areas of criticism directed at the Christian faith today: science and evil.  How do we stand firm in our faith when so much of modern science seems to suggest we shouldn’t; and how can we believe in a good God when there is so much evil in the world?  This morning we are going to tackle the first area of challenge from two different, but related angles.  Most of the scientific arguments against the Christian faith that exist today spawn from discussions of origins—the universe and people in particular.  Where did all this come from and how did we get here?  Well, the full answer to that question is obviously far more complex than we could possibly hope to cover this morning, but what I can tell you is that God’s fingerprints are all over it.  God’s fingerprints are all over the world.  Even a reasonably careful observer can see this plain truth and for the rest of our time this morning I want to point you to some of the evidence for this so that if you’re ever asked, you will be ready to give an answer; so that you will be ready to point clearly to the fact that God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  We’ll start with the evidence in creation broadly before taking a closer look at life and human life in particular.  As it turns out, all of this external evidence resonates with truths long since proclaimed in the Scriptures.

The fact that God’s fingerprints are all over this world is a truth heralded in both the Old and New Testaments.  In Psalm 19:1, David wrote this: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”  Almost 1,000 years later, the apostle Paul wrote something similar to the church in Rome.  In Romans 1:19-20 he wrote this: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.  So they are without excuse.”  The idea here is the evidence for God in the world around us is plain to see for anybody who cares to look.  God’s fingerprints are all over this world.

While there is obviously much that can be said about this evidence, let me boil it down to five big ideas you can take with you to help you remember some of the details.  The first big idea is just as David and Paul said: the evidence is clearly seen.  When people have stopped and thought long and hard about the way the universe is, it seems suspiciously likely that the place was designed with us in mind.  People have always been able to perceive this fact even if they haven’t always wanted to admit it.  A well-known atheist named Richard Dawkins who is sometimes called one of the “Four Horsemen” of the New Atheism, once wrote that “biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.”  He goes on to explain why he believes that to be merely an appearance instead of reality, but the fact that the appearance is impossible to miss is suggestive.  Some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century have supported this idea.  In the 1920s Edwin Hubble unexpectedly discovered clues pointing to the fact that the universe had a beginning—an idea that had long since been rejected by scientists.  This beginning became known as the Big Bang, and over the vociferous objections of a number of scientists who seemed desperate for it to not be true, it has become widely accepted that the universe began rather suddenly at some point in the past.  The fact that the universe began to exist has provided a powerful argument for the existence of God.  It is called the Kalam cosmological argument which sounds really fancy, but is actually pretty simple.  The first premise is: everything that begins to exist has a cause for its existence.  The second premise is: The universe began to exist.  The conclusion is: Therefore, the universe has a cause for its existence.  From here you can argue that the Christian God is the most likely cause based on the available evidence.  The point here, though, is that if it has a cause, then the universe was designed.  And, design implies purpose.  A skeptic can try and explain away this evidence, but she can’t ignore it.  God’s fingerprints are all over this world.

The second idea is that the evidence is pervasive.  The evidence for the design of the universe is everywhere we look.  Taken together this evidence is sometimes referred to as the fine-tuning of the universe for human life.  Now, when people talk about fine-tuning they are often referring to a set of physical constants that are precise to an extraordinarily high degree and indeed must be for life to exist.  But we can look at bigger things as well.  For instance, the earth is just the right distance from the earth.  Any closer or further and the earth’s temperature would not allow for life.  The size of the moon and its distance from the earth are precisely set for life.  Any bigger or closer and the tides would be out of control.  Any smaller or further and the earth would gradually tilt off its axis, messing up the seasons and causing cataclysmic earthquakes and volcano eruptions.  The properties of the light leaving the sun and arriving on earth are just suited for photosynthesis to happen in plants without which there wouldn’t be sufficient oxygen in our atmosphere for us to breathe.  Speaking of oxygen, the amount in our atmosphere is just right to have allowed for the invention of fire which was the precursor to pretty much every other major human invention.  Too little oxygen and fires would never light.  Too much and they would all burn out of control.  We could go on and on like this and fill a book with the number of ways our planet is uniquely suited for our existence.  It’s enough to have prompted astronomer and atheist Fred Hoyle to have said: “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”  That’s a pretty startling admission from someone loathe to make it.

The third idea is that the evidence is suppressed.  In spite of the prevalence and obvious nature of the evidence for God’s existence, skeptics often look for ways to avoid the conclusion of design that border on…and sometimes cross over into…the absurd.  In order to avoid the pernicious problem of the creation of the first life, some biologists have taken up a view called panspermia.  What’s panspermia?  It’s the view that ancient aliens planted the first single-celled organisms on earth and the rest of life arose naturally.  Another wild one is called the multiverse theory.  This one has the benefit of a lot of high-falutin theoretical physics, but the basic idea is that there are trillions and trillions of universes in existence.  We don’t have any way of knowing about or interacting with any of them, but they’re real.  And, with so many possible universes, the odds against one randomly arising that happens to be supportive of human life become reasonable instead of insurmountable.  There are many more examples where these come from of folks who have either ignored undesirable evidence or else twisted it beyond recognition.  Skeptics have to do this because God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  And now, you know how to tell them about it.

Big idea number four: the evidence is supernatural.  Not only does the evidence of the world point to the existence of God, it also points to some of His characteristics.  The very fact that the world began to exist suggests that something or someone had to cause it to exist.  Furthermore, this cause cannot itself be caused or else we run into an infinite regress of asking who caused the Causer.  Well, what’s a good word to describe an uncaused Causer?  Eternal.  And so God is.  Push this a bit further.  Given the sheer scope and complexity of the universe, whoever caused it to come into existence must be incredibly powerful, powerful beyond all reckoning or even imagination.  In addition to that, the sheer complexity of life means that the Causer must be indescribably intelligent.  The fragility of life and its perpetuation in spite of this suggests a God who is ongoingly involved in His creation.  I could go on, but you get the point.  God’s fingerprints are all over this world, a fact made clear in the amount it reveals about Him.

Number five: all this evidence is convicting.  If the evidence is taken at face value, the conclusion toward which it points brings with it a strong word of judgment on this world.  Many people who resist the idea of there being a God who is sovereign over this world do so precisely because somewhere inside they understand the implications of His existence and don’t like them.  If God’s not dead then neither are His moral expectations and the consequences for transgressing them.  If God’s not dead then we are no longer the chief authorities over our lives.  If God’s not dead then we really are as broken by sin as the writers of Scripture seem to believe.  If God’s not dead then we can’t get away with blithely living however we want.  If God’s not dead our need for a Savior is inescapable.  For someone who wants to merely live their life and be left alone this isn’t a warm and fuzzy idea.  Yet embrace it we must because God’s fingerprints are all over this world.

All told, these ideas help form the basis of a pretty strong case against the notion that everything we see is some kind of cosmic accident floating through the vast emptiness of space with no discernable purpose beyond what we construct for ourselves.  It’s just downright impossible to escape the fact that God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  And yet, as compelling a case the various conditions that allow for simply the possibility of life makes for God’s existence, the fact that it actually does exist is a whole other set of arguments all by itself.

Let me give you five more big ideas that will help to strengthen your case here and then we’ll get out of here to put it all into practice.  The first idea here is that life only comes from life.  One of the axioms of modern science is that nothing comes from nothing.  Louis Pasteur disabused the world of the notion that life comes from nonlife over 100 years ago.  And today scientists uniformly accept the notion that life absolutely doesn’t come from nonlife…except for when it did.  Indeed, in order to explain the creation of the world without God then life had to come from nonlife at least once.  And yet a great amount of research has found the odds against life arising by chance to be impossibly small.  For anyone to try and argue otherwise is like the scene at the end of Dumb and Dumber when Lloyd responds to the news that the odds of him getting the girl are 1 in a million by exclaiming, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”  The truth is that God is the source of all life and His fingerprints are all over this world.

Part of the reason the idea of life coming from nonlife is so absurd is noted in the second idea here: life contains information.  Modern geneticists have discovered that there is a vast ocean of information contained within our cells.  Each strand of your DNA consists of 3 billion bits of information that would stretch six feet long if unspooled.  A complete copy of your DNA can be found in every single one of the more than 37 trillion cells in your body.  Any explanation of the origin of human life (and life generally) must explain where this information came from.  How did it get here?  Again, the notion of chance is ridiculous and its commonly cited cousin, necessity, doesn’t make much sense either.  The only source of information we know is a mind and God is the only mind big enough to devise something like DNA.  God’s fingerprints are all over this world.

Now, if the universe was somehow much older than it was and the process of DNA coming into being purely by chance started from day one (neither of which make sense, but let’s assume them for the moment for the sake of argument), perhaps we could entertain some non-God possibilities.  But, all the evidence points to our third idea: life appeared suddenly.  Modern archaeological findings suggest rather powerfully that about 530 million years ago nearly all of the major animal body plans came into existence fully formed.  Furthermore, most of them appear in the fossil record in a span of 5-10 million years.  Geologically speaking that’s practically instantaneously.  This phenomenon, known as the Cambrian Explosion, is being received by many scientists about like the Big Bang theory was initially received and yet all the evidence points in this direction.  The fact is, God’s fingerprints are all over this world.

The last couple of points roll together.  First, life demonstrates purpose.  What we have seen thus far is a powerful case for the idea that life was designed and is not random.  Well, if something is designed, the next logical question to ask is: for what end?  This is a question of purpose.  If there is a design to this world and everything in it, then there is also a purpose.  The existence of purpose speaks to one of the deepest needs of our hearts and provides a powerful antidote to the nihilistic leanings of modern science.

The final point is that not only does life in general have a purpose, but that human life itself is special above and beyond the rest of this world.  Our ability to think and reason and form complex communications; our moral sensibilities; our ability to go against self-interest for the sake of others; our ability to create and design; our ability to create art and culture; all of these are things the rest of the animal world does not have.  All of life is miraculous to be sure, but human life is extra special.  We alone are creatures created in the image of God and are of inestimable value for it.  God Himself takes an active, intimate role in our creation.  David proclaimed as much in Psalm 139 which more than all the rest speak to the unique value we possess.  Listen to a few of his words:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.  My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”  Indeed, God’s fingerprints are not merely all over this world, but all over you and me.

What you now have, then, friends, is a case to make that the scientific explanations often cited as reasons against God’s existence simply don’t hold.  The best and most cutting edge science all points like an arrow right toward an intelligent mind behind everything we see and don’t see.  Take that one step further with a bit of good philosophy and theology and you have the God who lovingly created the world out of nothing and is intimately involved in its daily operation.  The simple and unavoidable fact is that God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  Now, some folks may still object that for God’s fingerprints to be all over this world there sure seems to be an awful lot wrong with it, and I’ll say that is a very potent objection.  But, it’s not at all insurmountable, and if you come back next week I’ll give you some of the tools you need to respond to it.  For now, though, know with confidence that God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  Scientific objections to God’s existence all fold when examined carefully because He’s left just too many clues to the contrary.  God’s fingerprints are all over this world.  Our job, yours and mine, is to spread the word.  Let’s go get to it.